Claire Farrell (lead author on the study) releases a tagged lake sturgeon on the North French River., Connie O’Connor/WCS Canada
Claire Farrell (lead author on the study) releases a tagged lake sturgeon on the North French River. © Connie O’Connor/WCS Canada

New insights into an ancient fish


Contact

Claire Farrell
Science and Youth Coordinator

Related

Freshwater fish Boreal Freshwater Indigenous partnerships

Published

2024-05-09

Known as namew in Ililîmowin (the Moose Cree dialect), lake sturgeon in English: these are the largest freshwater fish in Canada.

This ancient species has been around since the time of the dinosaurs, but they face new challenges.

Because namew are long-lived, slow-growing, and migratory, they are vulnerable to threats to their populations and their habitat. Although they’re globally endangered, namew still thrive in some of the free-flowing, relatively undisturbed rivers in the far north in Ontario.

Sunset on the North French River, Connie O’Connor/WCS Canada
Sunset on the North French River © Connie O’Connor/WCS Canada

The last free-flowing rivers

One such river is the Kah-pana-yow-sîpiy (river that widens) or the Mehkipwâmeštik-sîpiy (red willow river) in Ililîmowin, or the North French River in English. This is the last intact watershed without any permanent roads or industrial activity within Kit Aski Nahnuun (the Moose Cree Homeland). Globally, such free-flowing rivers are also becoming increasingly rare.

Namew are culturally important to Ililiwak (Moose Cree Peoples). WCS Canada and Moose Cree First Nation worked together to co-create a research program in the North French River. Together, we’re getting new insight into namew movement and behaviour in this free-flowing and undisturbed river. Not only does this give us insights into how healthy namew in a free-flowing river move and behave, but it also provides a benchmark to guide recovery for namew in more impacted and disturbed areas.

Namew (lake sturgeon) seasonal activity, WCS Canada
Namew (lake sturgeon) seasonal activity © WCS Canada

What we’ve learned

Our latest study shows that the North French River provides year-round habitat for namew. We identified some particularly important habitats, like overwintering sites.

Moose Cree Peoples commonly refer to six seasons to describe the natural patterns of water and temperature throughout the year. We documented how namew movement and behaviour changed throughout these six seasons.

This is the first and most comprehensive telemetry study of namew behaviour in a northern free-flowing river.

Parts of the Learning from Lake Sturgeon Team including co-leads of the project Dr. Connie O’Connor (WCS Canada, far left), and Jennifer Simard (Moose Cree First Nation, second right) as well as paper lead author Claire Farrell (WCS Canada, second left), community volunteer Rodger Simard (center), field lead Jacob Seguin (WCS Canada, center bottom), alongside Moose Cree youth, Jennifer Simard/Moose Cree First Nation
Parts of the Learning from Lake Sturgeon Team including co-leads of the project Dr. Connie O’Connor (WCS Canada, far left), and Jennifer Simard (Moose Cree First Nation, second right) as well as paper lead author Claire Farrell (WCS Canada, second left), community volunteer Rodger Simard (center), field lead Jacob Seguin (WCS Canada, center bottom), alongside Moose Cree youth © Jennifer Simard/Moose Cree First Nation

Next steps

Moose Cree First Nation is working to have the North French River formally recognized as an Indigenous protected area. This study supports their efforts observing and taking care of this river – and fish – that’s intertwined with their culture.

Based on the guidance of the Elders Advisory Group, we’re also continuing to involve Moose Cree youth in the project – a priority set by advising Elders involved in the project – to ensure that namew are protected now and into the future.

Explore the Learning from Lake Sturgeon project here!

Lake Sturgeon in deeper trouble than previously thought

Lake Sturgeon in deeper trouble than previously thought

Northern Ontario is one of the last strongholds for a species now considered endangered worldwide.

Learning from Lake Sturgeon

Learning from Lake Sturgeon

Big fish need healthy rivers.

Occupancy, movement, and behaviour of namew (lake sturgeon, Acipenser fulvescens) in an intact river in Canada

Occupancy, movement, and behaviour of namew (lake sturgeon, Acipenser fulvescens) in an intact river in Canada

Our data reveal distinct patterns of namew occupancy, movement, and behaviour in a free-flowing, intact river.